Make Friends with the Librarian

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Middle school librarians are a special kind of superhero.

The first librarian I worked with has powers of high emotional intelligence. She had visited my class during my first year of teaching to run a book pass. Later that day, she sent me the most affirming email I have ever received as an educator. And she copied the principal. Librarians get it.

The librarian I’ve known the longest is purely magical. She has planned lessons for me. She has taught my class with me. She has created step-by-step directions for using technology I didn’t know how to use. And, the most magical, she integrated theater into my class on multiple occasions in order to help students (many who had disabilities) better understand what they were reading. Librarians get it.

Librarian super hero #3 has matchmaking powers. I would email or call or slip a note in her box with a student name and list of interests. Oftentimes within that very hour, a stack of books chosen for that particular student would appear. Her powers to make readers out of the most reluctant students is awe-inspiring. Librarians get it.

Making friends with these school heroes has been a life saver. So grateful.

 

Cry It Out

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Sometimes I cry. I cry because my students were mean to each other and it’s all my fault. I cry because my lesson didn’t go how I’d envisioned. I cry because the principal came in at the worst possible time. I cry because I’m overwhelmed. I cry because it’s 7PM, I’m still at school, and I have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow. I cry because I’m tired – just so tired. It’s easy to focus on the negative parts of teaching (especially in October when the honeymoon period is over and the fact that summer is gone and won’t be back for a while settles in). But if through my blurry eyes, I can see at least one positive thing, one thing that is going well, I can put myself to sleep that night.

Calling Home 101

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I didn’t figure out how to efficiently contact home until year 4. I integrate phone calls into my classroom management plan. If students are seen behaving in an expected or leader-like way, I acknowledge them in front of the class and tell them I will be calling home to say how awesome they are. I keep a simple log: name, date, who I talked to or if I left a message, and a plus sign to symbolize that I called for a positive reason. My original thoughts about calls home were that they were too time-consuming. But 2-3 calls can be achieved in 5-10 minutes. I really do try to keep them as short as possible. The purpose is to quickly praise their student. If a phone number I have doesn’t work, I try email or send home a hand-written note. I love ending my day thinking about how awesome kids are.

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Redefining Balance

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“Don’t stay too late.” “Don’t go in too early.” “Don’t work weekends.” “Keep your balance.” Yeah. Right. My first year I stayed late, went in early, and worked weekends. I wanted to do a good job and that meant working a lot. I had to redefine balance. I needed a definition that worked for me.

Balance: attending happy hour on Fridays

My first few years of teaching I went to happy hour every Friday. I was filled with more than just greasy food and cheap beer at these soul-saving events; I received validation, laughter, encouragement, and release. Taking some time to decompress with my comrades was essential to my happiness. Friday would end, the kids would be gone, and I would be exhausted. But I never once regretted mustering the energy to go to happy hour. And let’s be real, I was home and in bed by 9 at the latest.

Parent Email Template

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The first time I got an email from a parent with a pointed concern, my internal temperature rose and I immediately got defensive. I spent well over an hour crafting the perfect email back.What a waste of time! I never even sent that email. Eventually I developed this template for all parent emails, and it has proved the ultimate time saver. parent-email-template

Dear ______,

(Insert student name) is (describe positive characteristics you’ve noticed about their student). He/She is a wonderful addition to our classroom community.

(Address concern, question, or other comment here in 2-5 sentences – keep it brief!)

(Insert student name) is lucky to have a parent that cares about him/her and his/her education.

Thank you for your support,

Marie Quist

Back-to-School Night Basics: Part 2

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  • Have a snack or sweet available for parents to munch on. Cheap pretzels and chocolate are my go-to.
  • Greet parents at the door. This helps them feel welcome and know that they are in the right place. Standing at the door also keeps me from awkwardly standing at the front of the room while parents arrive.
  • Say goodbye at the door. This helps to avoid any parents who might keep me from getting home before I need to wake up again for school the next day.

Back-to-School Night Basics: Part 1

Back-to-school night has the tendency to cause lots of stress. Here are some ideas that help me feel prepared:

  • Put your students to work. I turn on some music at the end of each period and have them help me tidy up or organize. I also ask for volunteers to help me with some organizing/set up after school (I bribe them with the sweet promise of a sucker).
  • Have some 3X5 note cards available. On one side, parents write a strength they see in their student and on the other side they write an opportunity for more learning, a question, a hope, etc.
  • Prepare a presentation. I include the following in mine:
    1. Who I am, where I come from/my background, and why I teach
    2. What students will know by the end of the year (it’s OK if this is vague)
    3. Communication, tech, grading, and homework information
    4. Directions for note cards with an example for clarification

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5 Things Principals Should Do to Support First-Year Teachers

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I had a stellar principal my first year of teaching. Here are some things she did that helped validate my new career choice.

1. She visited my classroom often and would immediately follow-up with things she liked and ONE question for me to ponder.

2. She made me feel like I could try things and take risks. She acknowledged that teaching is hard.

3. She made sure I was set up with a mentor teacher in the building.

4. She didn’t ask me to do anything extra. She told me that my only focus should be my students and collaborating with other teachers in service of my students.

5. She publicly shared something she had seen me do that she liked.

 

3 Ways to Start a Positive Relationship with your Principal

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I want my principal to know me, know what I do, and give me feedback. Here is what I do:

  1. Visit their office in the morning to say hello. Most of the time it’s super quick as I grab copies or check my mailbox. I don’t make this a time to talk shop unless they initiate it.
  2. Invite them into the classroom within the first 6 weeks and then try to make a habit out of it. I send a short email invite. They don’t come every time but they do when they can.
  3. Ask for feedback after each visit.